White sounds perfect

S ince Phil Bryant’s rise in Mississippi politics began when he was appointed state auditor in 1996 by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, he has an commendable sense of ownership about the position.

Having also put in almost a dozen years as the main taxpayer-funded watchdog of the public’s money, Bryant understands the type of character, integrity and intelligence it takes to do the auditor’s job well.

The Republican governor seems to have picked just such a person in Shad White.

White is young, just 32, and looks a lot younger, but he’s obviously one smart cookie. He was a Truman Scholar at Ole Miss and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, and he’s a graduate of Harvard Law School. You don’t do any of those things — much less all three — without a good brain and a good work ethic.

Furthermore, White seems like a straight arrow, which is perfect for the job. If you are going to hold other public officials’ accountable for their actions, you need to be squeaky clean yourself.

Stacey Pickering, who is stepping down as state auditor to take a higher-paying, less stressful job as director of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board, fell short at times in that regard.

Just a few years ago, he got caught at what certainly looked like converting campaign funds for personal use and trying to hide it by failing to itemize a lot of his campaign expenses.

Pickering also seemed to have only passing understanding of the state’s Public Records and Open Meetings laws. He tried occasionally to circumvent them or counseled other public bodies how to try to dodge them.

It doesn’t appear that will be an issue with White. For the past seven months, he has served as the director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, a conservative organization that stands up for the public’s right to know what its government is doing and how it spends its money.

In his first remarks after his appointment was announced last week, White promised he would be a dogged check on public corruption and government malfeasance; that he would be fair but unwaveringly honest.

“I promise you that I will always tell you the truth, even if it is not fun, even if it makes some people uncomfortable, even if it makes some people who are politically powerful uncomfortable. I don’t care.”

Powerful words. Let’s hope he follows them up with action.